Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move - Thoughts

Boy howdy is this a strange one. I haven't played any of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong entries beyond the official first, but the gameplay featured in Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move seemed like something I would enjoy, so I decided to pick it up during Club Nintendo's closing. What I got wasn't really what I expected, and though I had fun with it there's a couple hiccups that keep it from being as competent as something like, oh say, Pushmo.


From the screenshots alone, the premise looks simple enough—arrange the square platforms so that the mini Mario has a clear path from the start to the exit. There's four different modes in the game, each of them containing some variation on the main objective: Mario's Main Event gives you random pieces you must put on the board quickly before time runs out, Puzzle Palace gives you a limited amount of tiles but infinite time to deduce the answer, Many Mini Mayhem has you rearranging a preset board but juggling many minis, and Giant Jungle is like Mario's Main Event on aggressive steroids. There's also Mario 64 DS-style minigames, but those are far from the main draw of the game (outside the slightly entertaining Cube Crash).

Out of all of the modes, Puzzle Palace is the closest to the game I imagined Minis on the Move to be. The puzzles start out modest but become unbelievably complicated, with some of the expert stages forcing you to reverse engineer how the designers pieced it together. On one hand the vague direction you're given per level can be really frustrating (the only clue on how to proceed are the colored coins you [usually] collect in a specific order), but on the other hand it leads to some utterly brilliant moments when you finally overcome a puzzle you had to solve from scratch. It had a slight Sudoku/Picross element to it, where you start by realizing which spots absolutely need a piece and then working from there. I'm pleased Puzzle Palace had the most amount of puzzles in the game, as it was a delight all the way to the end.

Mario's Main Event was a nice surprise, but it was a mode that didn't gel with me at times. I like the idea of taking a mode like Puzzle Palace and adding random blocks to it—essentially allowing you to create your own "solution" to each puzzle—but in the latter stages the randomization served to thwart me whenever I had a solution already visualized. Even with the groundwork laid down, I would often lose to the time limit as the mini marched slowly on its way, my stylus incessantly prodding it so that it would hurry up. To succeed you have to work in tandem with the mini's slow pace, hoping you get the right blocks to pop up in your pipe queue, which can be extremely vexing on the larger maps.


Many Mini Mayhem was a peculiar mode I was glad didn't have as many puzzles as the other two. Since all you do is rearrange the board, the difficult came from having to manage multiple minis at once; this made the puzzles where you had to simultaneously help four of the little guys an obnoxiously strict chore, and I wound up forfeiting the chain bonuses since it was to easiest send one to collect the coins and the others straight to the exit. The majority of the puzzles were "somewhat fun" I'd say, but it could get downright stupid with the micromanagement sometimes.

Giant Jungle is a monstrosity. As I said above, it's Mario's Main Event except about 5x bigger. The problem is both the absurd length of these levels combined with the severe time restriction—having to collect ten stars and dozens of stopwatches while navigating a massive maze with randomized tiles was all I needed to know that the mode wasn't for me. I had completed every other event in the game so I was content with skipping this one; it's certainly a hardcore challenge for those that are adept at the game.


Despite the family-friendly vibes one may receive from a puzzle game about Mario toys, Minis on the Move can certainly feel very malicious at times. It's less of a deductive puzzle game and more of an adaptive one, encouraging you to piece together solutions on-the-go. Having to tap the mini to make them move rather than pressing a "go fast" button is probably the stupidest design decision I've encountered all year, but other than that I had a decent time overall. I still wish I could've had twice as many Puzzle Palace puzzles...
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Images obtained from: howlongtobeat.com, egmnow.com, exophase.com, examiner.com

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Banjo-Kazooie - Thoughts


With the recent surge of support for Playtonic's Yooka-Laylee kickstarter, I thought it might be interesting to go back and visit the collectathon genre's poster child, Banjo-Kazooie. While it is possible to lump the game in with other titles like Super Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot, Banjo-Kazooie has its own distinctive taste that sets it apart from the other platformers. It's slower, strongly emphasizing exploration over execution, its world endearing and childish rather than being quirky or edgy. At times it can be too slow for its own good, but on the whole there's a good reason it's often thought of as Rare's signature Nintendo 64 title.


After a few minutes of intro exposition you're plopped down into the world, ready to poke your nose into its nooks and crannies. How quickly the gameplay is introduced is a definite plus—I miss the pick-up-and-play nature of a lot of older gen titles, cutting straight to the point without chipping away at your attention with meandering cutscenes. Another great design choice is that all the worlds (barring Freezeezy Peak) can be fully completed as soon as you step foot into them, only requiring a keen eye to spot all the jiggies, jinjos, and music notes. I was able to play the game in small, two-world-per-play chunks thanks to this, and though the latter stages can be quite heady (Click Clock Wood is a marathon of patience when you play it in a single sitting), each one is appropriately sized and paced.

Games like these are often criticized for featuring the stereotypical "water, ice, and desert"-themed levels, but Banjo-Kazooie handles them in its own charming way. Clanker's Cavern is a rusted series of tunnels featuring the eponymous (and terrifying!) Clanker, Freezeezy Peak is a Christmas-oriented wonderland with a gargantuan snowman just begging to be mountaineered, and Gobi's Valley focuses more on pyramids with self-contained puzzles than traversing its sun-baked sands. There's other vibrant worlds that are quite clever as well, like the spooky Mad Monster Mansion and the seasonal Click Clock Wood. The pretty bow that holds this package together is definitely Grant Kirkhope's whimsical tunes, the instruments and progression changing during the expeditions. My nostalgia may play a part in me reverence for this title, but I still feel that anyone that has a soft-spot for childlike curiosity would easily be sucked into these worlds.


Perhaps the biggest knock against the game is that it can be quite slow at times. Even with Kazooie at the helm it can take a while to go from point A to point B, and dying in a stage like Rusty Bucket Bay when going for all the music notes (curse that turbine room!) can only exacerbate the game's leisurely pace. Funnily enough, some of the timing requirements on the latter parts of the game (like the flight pad switch above the Freezeezy Peak entrance) can be extremely cruel in contrast to the mellow tone of the game. Beyond that there's not much to chastise the game for—sure, the note and jiggy requirement for beating the game is pretty demanding, but as the theme of the game is to "collect" stuff, it's a natural fit for completionists. Plus collecting everything is hardly a hassle; no matter where you go there's something to see and someone to talk to, making the world feel very much alive and thriving even without your presence.


Banjo-Kazooie's style of gameplay isn't one I find myself yearning to return to a lot—in fact, most of my N64 catalogue is filled with games I'm not eager to replay—but it was nice returning to this humble title. It's adventurous without being overambitious, the characters goofy without feeling forced. The quiz show and final battle were an excellent way to test the player's knowledge on the game and its mechanics, and there's not much else to say other it has rightfully earned its place in the hearts of many adolescents.

However, my real interest is in whether or not its sequel has remained as timeless...
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Images obtained from:  wikipedia.org, vizzed.com, ign.com, gameinformer.com